When “Doc” Romnes stepped on the ice for the Chicago Blackhawks in December 1930, he became the first Minnesotan to play in the NHL and there wasn’t exactly a welcoming committee awaiting him at Chicago Stadium. Don Riley’s Column, Pioneer Press, March 7, 1985:
“...There were times when nobody on my own Chicago Blackhawk team talked to me...They treated me a little like I was a thief. They wondered what an American was doing invading their preserve. Gosh, how I’d try to be a good teammate and set them up! That’s why I became a good playmaker, setting those fellows up so that they’d talk to me. I eventually got accepted, but it wasn’t easy.”
Romnes was born in White Bear Lake on New Year’s Day, 1907, but by the time high school started, he was enrolled and playing for the former Mechanic Arts High School in Saint Paul. That was followed by time at the College of St. Thomas before moving on to post-graduate hockey. He made his pro debut with the Saint Paul Saints in the minor pro American Hockey Association. There he caught the eye of the Blackhawks, whose owner Major Frederick MacLaughlin was particularly interested in American players. He soon became a regular and attained another first in 1934 as the first Minnesotan to have his name on the Stanley Cup as Chicago defeated Detroit.
His best year was 1935-36 when he scored 38 points (13g, 25a) and won the Lady Byng Trophy for sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high level of play. “Doc” would win another Stanley Cup in 1938 when the decidedly underdog Hawks sneaked into the playoffs with a 14-25-9 record and reeled off wins in three playoff series to bring another cup to the Windy City.
“Doc” (He hated his given name Elwyn and got his nickname because he carried his skates in a physician’s case) later preceded John Mariucci as Minnesota’s headman in 1947 and helped lay the groundwork for Mariucci’s early success in reaching the NCAA Finals in his first two years. Gopher legend John Mayasich has paid high tribute to Romnes coaching skills.
He was among the charter enshrines to the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 1973 and died on July 21, 1984.